Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bean Salad with Olives and Tarragon

Where, oh where has my little blog gone? I had so many things I was going to post about in July, and here I am with just one day left and so little to show for my kitchen efforts. I had at least one more salad I wanted to try, and at least three flavors of ice cream I was going to make, and there’s a zucchini cake I need to tell you about…And what about all those fresh summer vegetables out there? Truth be told, with the exception of corn on the cob, which I’ve been boiling, I’ve been eating those vegetables raw. Delicious, but…

Anyway, I did get around to making a delicious salad of white beans tossed with olives and flavored with fresh tarragon. I soaked and cooked a big batch of dried white beans, pulled some out for this salad, and froze the rest (to make it again!), but you could use rinsed and drained canned beans. I also found some rather delicious, meaty Italian green olives, whose name I forget, but use whatever you like. The anise flavor of the tarragon is a pleasant surprise with the creamy beans and slightly briny olives. That deliciousness (along with the success of this salad) leads me to believe that some finely minced fennel bulb, which also has an anise-like taste, would be a good addition or perhaps even a replacement for the celery.

This salad is quick to put together, as a salad should be, and lasts pretty well in the refrigerator, so you might be able to make a double batch that could help you though some busy times. You know, if, like me, your summer doesn’t get much of a chance to get too laid back.

White Bean Salad with Green Olives and Tarragon
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone  (the older edition) by Deborah Madison

This salad is best served at room temperature. If you make it ahead or serve leftovers, take the salad out of the refrigerator for a while to let it warm up a little.

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 small garlic clove
½ teaspoon coarse salt
3 cups cooked white beans, or canned beans, drained and rinsed (about 2 16-ounce cans)
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup pitted and chopped green olives
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Pour the vinegar into a small bowl. Finely mince the garlic clove. Sprinkle the salt on the minced garlic and press and scrape it with the knife to create a garlic-salt paste as described in this post. Scrape up all of the garlic-salt paste and mix it with the vinegar. Let stand while preparing the remaining ingredients.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the beans, onion, celery, olives and tarragon.

3. Add the olive oil and pepper to the vinegar mixture. Whisk well to combine completely. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and toss well to coat. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. Best served at room temperature.

Makes about 6 servings.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Featured Ingredient: Zucchini!

The summer squash season is wonderful. It’s bountiful. It’s fun! It’s looked upon with equal amounts of greedy joy…and dread. We cooking gardeners and gardening cooks can’t help but be excited about producing so much food so easily. We also can’t help getting just a bit overwhelmed. I mean, what are we going to do with all this stuff?  Luckily, clever cooks have been finding ways to deal with all this vegetable flesh for generations.

Zucchini are, like the other squashes, descendants of plants native to the Americas. They were developed into the fruit that we know and love in Italy, hence the Italian-sounding name (although they’re also known as courgettes), and then re-introduced to North America by immigrants. The singular form of zucchini is actually zucchino, or sometimes zucchina, but since you’ll rarely see one lonely summer squash all by itself, those singular terms won’t get much use anyway.

Zucchini, as well as their botanical and culinary cousins, yellow summer squash, are quite mild, some would say bland, in flavor, with soft edible skins as long as the fruit isn’t too overgrown. They’re mostly known as a place-holder, providing substance to meals and moisture to baked goods, but they are very low in calories and do have some fiber, vitamin A, folate and potassium. The flowers are edible, too, and can be battered and fried, stuffed, or added to soup or quesadillas.

There are savory applications of zucchini to casseroles, soups and stews, and pasta dishes. There are sweet cakes, cookies, and quick breads. I love trying to find interesting uses for this prolific fruit, but they still have to be delicious (and not too weird). I find green zucchini and yellow summer squash to be pretty much interchangeable in savory recipes, so I use whatever I have. I have a list of all the zucchini and yellow summer squash recipes that I’ve shared on The Messy Apron here, but I list (with links) my five absolute favorites (so far) below.

This is one recipe in which the zucchini really contributes to the unique character of the final product. It’s a delicious dip loaded with chopped zucchini softened and slightly smoky from the grill and flavored liberally with feta cheese. You could use other fresh herbs besides the oregano in the recipe. I recently made it with mint and it was fantastic. Pita chips are a great vehicle for this dip.

I don’t think you can talk about zucchini without talking about zucchini quick bread. This one is so good that I’ve kind of stopped looking at other zucchini bread recipes. I totally love the pecans in this bread, but I think chocolate chips would be a good substitution. It makes two loaves, so you can freeze one for later. 

This is simply a chocolatey version of the basic quick bread above. The zucchini might not be the dominate ingredient here, but there’s chocolate, so who cares?

This is a whole wheat yeast bread that uses zucchini for moisture and a touch of vegetable flavor the same way a quick bread does. It’s great for sandwiches, especially the tomato sandwiches I can’t seem to get enough of in late summer.

Here is my one tribute to yellow summer squash in this list. I just love this recipe as it is, but if you find yourself with zucchini to get rid of, you could probably use it here. It’s deliciously creamy and sweet from the corn, plus rich and a little smoky from the bacon. I make this every summer if at all possible.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Cherry Almond Loaf Cake

I love it when I’m paging through a cookbook, dreaming (or drooling) over a seasonally specific recipe, and then, as if by some sort of suggestive faerie magic, I come across the perfect featured ingredients from a local source. That’s what happened last week when I took notes from the library’s copy of Local Flavors by Deborah Madison just before a trip to the farmer’s market, during which I found some beautiful sour cherries.

Fresh sour cherries need to be purchased near the source, simply because they are so delicate. They also, in my opinion, need a well-sweetened recipe to properly shine. This Cherry Almond Loaf Cake is a great one for just that purpose. It’s not super-sweet, but it’s simple and, except for actually pitting the cherries, quick as well. 

This cake goes together in the food processor, which I found intriguing. First, almonds are ground into coarse meal, then processed with the flour. That dry mixture is removed and the wet ingredients are processed. The dry ingredients go back in and with a few touches of a button, cake batter comes about. That batter is scraped into a loaf pan, covered with cherries and some more almonds, and baked.

While those cherries start off as a great pile on top of the almond-laced batter, that batter rises up and partially engulfs them as it bakes. The resulting loaf cake is slightly dense rather than fluffy, more like a pound cake, and tastes of toasted almonds. The cherries, miraculously transformed into tender, lightly sweetened, fruity gems, stud the top of each slice, making the whole experience moist and delicious.

I will freely admit that pitting cherries is not my favorite kitchen task. With these little, soft, sour ones, my hand-held cherry pitter just wouldn’t do the job, so I attacked them with my fingers and worried about cleaning up later. Such a chore gives me a bit of appreciation for the fact that fresh cherry season is so short, but such deliciousness as a cherry almond cake that comes together so easily turns that chore into a labor of love!

Cherry Almond Loaf Cake
Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

While I had sour cherries available and used them here, you could use any cherries, or even a combination of different varieties to make this cake.

1 cup slivered almonds, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups pitted cherries

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease and flour an 8 x 5-inch loaf pan. Set aside. Set aside ¼ cup almonds.

2. Place the remaining ¾ cup almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Place the butter and sugar in the food processor and process until well-creamed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to process until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, processing until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the almond and vanilla extract and process until very smooth.

4. Add half of the ground almond mixture. Process until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining almond mixture and process until very smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. The batter will be thick.

5. Add the cherries to the top of the batter to cover. Sprinkle the reserved almonds over the top. Bake at 375 F for about 1 hour or until a tester comes out clean.

6. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Turn the cake out of the pan onto a plate or platter and slice to serve. Keep covered for a few days.

Makes about 8-10 servings.